Adoration of the Golden Calf, by Andrea di Lione

Acts Devotional Commentary [Acts 7:11-50] Stephen’s Speech To The Sanhedrin (Delivered by Moses)


Stephen’s Speech To The Sanhedrin (Delivered by Moses)


Acts 7:11-50

11 “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. 12 When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. 13 On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. 14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. 15 Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. 16 Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.

17 “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. 18 Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.’ 19 He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.

20 “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for by his family. 21 When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.

23 “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. 24 He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian.25 Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. 26 The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’

27 “But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? 28 Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.

30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31 When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.

33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’

35 “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.

37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ 38 He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.

39 “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ 41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in what their own hands had made. 42 But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
    forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
43 You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon. (Cross-reference Amos 5:25-27)

44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45 After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.

48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
    What kind of house will you build for me?
    says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’ (Cross-reference Isaiah 66-2)

51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”


Reflections and Commentary


As mentioned in the previous post, detailing the first part of Stephen’s speech, a popular rhetoric tool of Paul and the prophets has been retelling the story of God’s people, but highlighting certain points to make an argument. In this case, the argument is going to be how Jesus is the expected one. However, in Stephen’s speech we learn that his history is not 100% in sync with the OT texts. Many acute readers have noticed a few discrepancies in Stephen’s speech which we will address now.

First, the easy ones.

  1. Moses “placed outside” and then taken? (7:21)
    1. Anyone familiar with the Moses story knows that he was placed in a based and floated along the river, just like the mythical legend of King Sagron the Great. He was not simply, “placed outside”.
    2. The second issue is that Stephen says that Moses was taken after placed outside. That makes it sound more like the Pharaoh’s daughter rescued him rather than his own family.
    3. These discrepancies are relatively minor since Stephen was attempting to give a brief overview of Moses’ childhood. He was not recounting in detail his whole life. It looks like he was just shortening the story since it was not significant to the point he was making. Furthermore, being placed in a river and being placed outside are not exactly contradictions. The river is indeed outside and Pharaoh’s daughter did technically “take” moses, though take is probably just a poor English translation, not a manuscript issue.
  2. Moses says what to his fellow fighting Hebrews? (7:26)
    1. Exodus 2:13 says “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”
    2. Acts 7:26 says “Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?
    3. Here we see Moses being misquoted, however, the heart of what Moses said is there still. The wording is slightly different but that is fairly normal. If I relay a message from my brother to my sister, I am going to relay the heart of the message, not the verbatim message.

Now the more problematic ones.

  1. Moses talked with an “angel” at the burning bush? (7:35)
    1. Stephen seems to imply that Moses spoke with and angel and not God at the burning bush. However, Exodus shows Moses speaking with God and the angel just appearing over the bush.
    2. Acts 7:35He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush.
    3. Exodus 3:2-4
      “There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
      When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
    4. This discrepancy seems to imply a difference as to who was actually talking to Moses and sending him back to Egypt. Was it God or was it a messenger for God?
    5. I think there is a possibility that since the Lord called out to Moses “through the bush” that it is assumed that the angel was the mouthpiece since it too was over/in the bush. However, this is an assumption. I believe it’s the same assumption that Stephen and his counterparts also made.
  2. What was written in the book of the prophets? (7:42-43)
    1. Stephen is quoting from Amos, a minor but early prophet. The passage he is quoting is from Amos 5:25-27.
    2. Amos 5:25-27 says
      25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
          forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
      26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
          the pedestal of your idols,
          the star of your god—
          which you made for yourselves.
      27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
          says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.
    3. Acts 7:42-42 Says
          ‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
          forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
      43 You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek
          and the star of your god Rephan,
          the idols you made to worship.
      Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.
    4. The very real discrepancy seems to come from the fact that Stephen is quoting from the Greek Septuagint and not the masoretic texts. The translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, around 200 BCE, created a number of contradictions with the later masoretic texts, as seen in the case of Amos. The names and the places in Acts 7 are affiliated with Babylonian culture, which was likely adopted into the Septuagint translation for clarity or for theologizing the text. The translators of the Septuagint were known to shorten and simplify texts and also try to add clarity by replacing pro-nouns in names. Notice that this was heavily done in Amos’ case. The unnamed gods in the Hebrew texts became Molek and Rephan in the later Greek texts. Beyond Damascus became Babylon as well.
    5. Does this present an actual contradiction? Yes and no. The quote is clearly different, however, it’s easy to see that the differences are minor and they exist because scribes were trying to add clarity. The heart of the message is still there. It’s the details that are changed, which is common in biblical manuscripts. But, if you are a biblical inerrantist, this discrepancy would be worrisome.

With the discrepancy issues aside, Stephen’s speech focuses on the stubbornes and murderous nature of his own people, who kill their own prophets.

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him,

This is where he is able to bring it back around to Jesus and also remind them that they have a history of killing the messengers of the Lord. The last thing they did was kill the actual messiah that those messengers to speaking of. If this sounds like a parable of Jesus’ then you would be correct. It’s the prable of the tenant farmers from Mark 12 and Luke 20.

The Parable of the Tenants

12 Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all,saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’[?”

12 Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.

One would have to assume that this parable would have been recalled as Stephen spoke to the council.


Comments, curses, and blessings welcome!

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